Walking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage (Part 2) - The Best First Day in Japan

Spoiler alert: this post isn't about the Shikoku pilgrimage, although it is about the same trip. It's about what I did with my spare first day in Nagoya: the lost day...

Arriving first thing in the morning on a long-haul flight is not ideal. You're tired, jet-lagged and yet you need to stay awake until a normal bedtime, so you can adjust your body clock.

I had almost 12 hours to kill on that first day, and was waiting for my friends to finish work.

So what do you do with a whole day to yourself? I like to plan, so I made a plan. It went pretty well.

I know Nagoya well, as I used to live there. My first thought was to go to Komeda, a coffee chain I like that's originally from Nagoya, for モーニング (mо̄ningu; breakfast set). But I'd already had breakfast on the plane, so I resisted the temptation to have a second breakfast, and went straight to Atsuta Shrine instead.

熱田神宮 (Atsuta Jingū; Atsuta Shrine) is a beautiful and important Shinto shrine. It's right by 神宮前 (Jingūmae) station, which makes sense seeing as jingū-mae means "in front of the shrine".

The train from the airport stops at Jingūmae, so I got off there and headed straight to a depachika (デパ地下). Depachika is the (often amazing) basement floor of a department store, where the food is, and I wanted sushi and cold green tea. I bought lunch there and then went to the shrine.

It's not really ok to eat in temple or shrine grounds, but there was a rest area with vending machines, so I sat there and had my mackerel sushi. 

I also had this tiny beer (to celebrate being in Japan after almost two years). I had a good feeling about this day already.

↓ Atsuta Shrine

There was a wedding going on, too:

↓ Yay!

Next up, I headed to the onsen (温泉; hot spring). I picked this for two reasons - the first is that I love onsen, and I couldn't wait to go back to one and relax.

The second reason I wanted to go to the onsen is that I'd been on a long-haul flight since 7am UK time, and I really wanted a shower.

Onsen is also a pretty good solo activity - assuming you find being naked with strangers less embarrassing than being naked with friends (I do). Japanese hot springs are a communal affair; separated by gender, but no swimsuits allowed.

I'd used the airport wifi to look up some reviews, and decided on Miya no yu (宮の湯). It was about a half-hour walk from the shrine, and I could walk there along the river. There were late plum blossoms, and some sprinklings of cherry blossoms too.

↓ At the onsen (no pictures in the bath, for obvious reasons)

There were a bunch of different baths, including a 電気風呂 (denki-buro) which literally translates as "electric bath", and is - yikes - a hot bath with low-level electric current running through it. 

You might think that electricity and water don't mix, and you'd be right. The denki-buro is worth a try though - unless you have a pacemaker, in which case give it a miss. It feels a bit like prickly pins and needles.

There was also a smaller bath with "water of the month". This month's special water was よもぎ (yomogi; Japanese mugwort). The water was a vivid bright green and looked like melon soda.

After a long soak in various entertaining baths, I got dressed and had a lie down and a bottle of milk.

Milk is a surprisingly popular post-bath drink, considering Japan doesn't have a long history of dairy consumption.  お風呂上がりの牛乳 (ofuro agari no gyuunyuu; milk after a bath) is almost as good as お風呂上がりのビール (ofuro agari no biiru; beer after a bath).

I'd already had one tiny beer though and was fighting off jet lag, so I stuck to milk. There's something very satisfying about glass bottles of milk.

I lay down in this tatami mat rest area, and watched some Japanese variety shows on a distant TV:

It was 4pm. I still had two hours to kill before my friends finished work, so I went to karaoke.

There's even a special word for "going to karaoke by yourself" in Japanese: ヒトカラ (hito-kara), which is short for 一人カラオケ (hitori karaoke).

Don't get me wrong - karaoke is fun with friends. But it's super fun by yourself too, and in a different way.

You can hog the microphone, and practice the same song three times in a row without anyone complaining. And you don't have to listen to other people's dubious song choices and dodgy singing.

↓ It's all your own dubious song choices and dodgy singing!

After an hour of singing and all-you-can-drink soft drinks from the ドリンクバー (dorinku baa; self-service drink bar), I got the subway to meet my friends.

We went to Minoji, a 焼き鳥屋 (yakitori-ya), a restaurant serving yakitori aka "things on sticks". Finally, some hot Japanese food!

I got to eat a lot of different things, old and new. But more importantly, I got to catch up with old friends. I was having so much fun I forgot to take a picture of the outside of the restaurant, with its red lanterns and moody lighting.

I didn't realise until afterwards, but the first time I ever went to Minoji was actually my very first night in Nagoya, after I moved there in 2011.

It made me pretty happy to be back there in 2018. The perfect end to a perfect first day back in Japan.

I wasn't sure how relaxing the rest of the trip would be, but that first day in Nagoya, I was so relaxed!

Not bad for a "lost day", right?

Click here to read part 1 (which is actually about the Shikoku 88 pilgrimage!)